Sailing Totem: 2020 in hindsight

The Totem crew shares their roundup of stats from a most memorable year.

Grand plans for 2020, unrealized. It’s a common refrain for a year that shook up lives around the world. In our annual lookback at statistics, it would be easy to deride the year. But holding the belief that largely, we make our own happiness, Jamie and I had a little fun with the numbers, instead of bemoaning what we couldn’t do.

Black dashes: our route this year. How about that norther we’re having? Behan Gifford

Travels on Totem

The only year we covered less distance than 2020 was almost a decade ago! In 2011, we were parked in Sydney, Australia, and working to put cash back in the cruising kitty.

Countries visited: 1. As planned, we’d have sailed through about 10 countries while winding a route through the Pacific islands. Oh well! They aren’t going anywhere.


Nautical miles: 1,664. Not bad for staying in one country. On the other hand, this is just a fraction of the coastline in Pacific side of Mexico!

Anchored: 212 nights with anchoring 68 times at average depth of 20 feet. I thought it would be higher, but we also spent time…

Totem and dolphins Saltymatey crew

Docked: 67 days. This sounded high, then Jamie reminded me that we’d booked a month when my family visited at the beginning of the year; we booked more days to prep for the South Pacific…


Hauled: 81 days. For much of this time, we were away from Totem: road tripping up to stay with my father in November.

Nights at sea: 6. Only six! Talk about a slow year for passages! Still not the lowest (see above…that number was 0 in 2011). We miss passagemaking; I’m not sure 2021 will scratch that itch.

Pandemic uncertainty

Many features of this past year were unprecedented in our cruising experience. Plainly: much of 2020 was just WEIRD. Just as Totem was prepped and provisioned for the South Pacific, the pandemic reality hit and instead of sailing toward a distant horizon, we tucked away for about half the year in the islands of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park. It was strange? But it was safe, and we had everything we needed.

Map of Mexico
We spent more than half of 2020 in this little red box: fun packed into less space! Behan Gifford

Longest stretch without touching land: 47 days, give or take a few. Memory has mushed “days we got off the boat for a swim/paddle/etc. but didn’t go on land” with “days we got off the boat and actually went on land.”

Days of safety concerns about being in Mexico during pandemic: 0

Misleading claims heard about COVID’s impact on cruising: too many to count


Life aboard

Despite the challenges 2020 held, not much everyday was different at all. We managed as usual aboard our little floating municipality of utilities and needs.

Coolest critters of the year: sharing water with whale sharks and orcas—two days apart!

Most annoying critter of the year: the stingray that slashed/poisoned Jamie. Runner up: bees that delivered a whopper four stings in one day, including a cheap butt shot. Ow!

Number of times our drone lost power and plummeted 400′ to earth: 1. On Boxing Day even.

Number of times recovered drone has been able to fly: 0. Still recovering from this emotionally.

Christmas anchorage
Totem in our Christmas anchorage, and our dron’e’s last still before dropping like a stone…but four years of service! Behan Gifford

Biggest food fail: homemade bacon jam jar #2 lost in fridge, went moldy. Tragedy!

Biggest food win: a trifecta between Luis Battista’s farm, Senior Juan’s “grandfather’s wheelbarrow” service, and Elena’s personal shopping, all providing dockside deliveries in Loreto. Gold star!

Dockside deliveries in Loreto. Behan Gifford

Best upgrades: Cruise RO 30 gph watermaker and washing machine. Ready water on board is great quality of life. The washer doesn’t use any more water than a bucket, but our clothes are cleaned better – and it’s so much easier, we do it more.

Coolest new gadget: Pi server setup for media, backups, and database. We loved this enough to share it on our last TOTEM TALKS – still available to replay!

Internet consumed: LOTS. a significant, unmeasurable spike to accommodate guided meditation online, workout via Zoom (four friends / four countries!), and growth in our Zoom sessions for TOTEM TALKS and consulting work.

A big year for “working cruising”

2020 was going to be the year we slowed down our work with coaching, sails, freelance writing, and leading seminars. South Pacific bandwidth limitations would make it so. It couldn’t have been more different! We increased effort on ALL fronts thanks to the opportunity of good connectivity in Mexico, and less time underway.

Behan and Jamie Gifford
Totem Talks presentation Behan Gifford

Presentations, pre-pandemic: 29 (all in person: seminars in La Cruz, Toronto, Vancouver, and Seattle)

Presentations, post-pandemic:  5 (all online: Wooden Boat Festival, NWSA, and Women’s Sailing Conference) – plus a dozen TOTEM TALKS livestreams.

Articles published: 16, mainly Cruising World and 48° North, plus dozens of blog posts on and

New TRU crew (coaching clients): 64

Boats evaluated for clients: 116

Clients who started cruising: 30

Clients completing circumnavigations: 2

TOTEM TALKS fashion award: SaltyMatey’s Sam Jobin, for excellence in haberdashery and facial hair

Saltymatey crew with Jamie
SaltyMatey’s Sam Jobin (center) Behan Gifford

Boldest TRU crew kickoff to cruising during a pandemic: tie between the crew of Atmospheric (required to get permission to fly out of Australia, then starting on a never-before-seen boat and heading down the ICW, in DECEMBER, when it’s approximately 50°F colder than home) and crew of Hindsight (Americans who bought in Greece, then sailed through the Med and across the pond to Grenada; bonus points for best named boat of 2020!).

Hindsight boat
Hindsight Behan Gifford

Most important of all

2020 was strewn with beauty. It is unquestionably the popular narrative that 2020 was a pretty lousy year. And it was, by many metrics. But I like the perspective that strange times bring with them the gift of a reminder for what’s important in life, the relationships we value, and time for introspection. And in hindsight: a lookback on 2020′s prominent memories are not centered on difficulties, but on goodness that happened in the company of friends.

There were beach fires, epic snorkels, belly laughs, stargazing, floatdowning, and more. We held each other up and helped each other forward, as the cruising family does.

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been…”

Rainer Maria Rilke

If we take away lessons from the accumulation, it’s gratitude for how a cruising lifestyle’s norms has eased the challenges of 2020. More than ever it’s inspiration to help others find their way to life afloat, and be grateful for our cruising tribe on the water.